It's a question I've gotten a lot of over the last 17 years. I usually recommend that they read Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, send them to a few websites, and wish them the best. Back in the days before the Internet, I'd recommend a couple other basic books on Paganism. Now, I send them to The Witch's Voice, and if they're in DFW, to Moonlady News. Sometimes I feel like I should have a business card printed up with that basic information.
I've never known why I'm the one that people interested in Paganism approach. Certainly, part of it is that I do public education in the religious studies and women's studies classes at several of the local universities. But it's not usually in these settings that I get the question about "books for beginners." I am a fairly out there public Pagan, but certainly not the most visible in the community. And I don't particularly "look" Pagan or give off the glamour and mystique that many people seem drawn to.
But they ask me all the same.
Some over the years -- more than I can count -- have asked me to teach them, if they could join my coven (which doesn't even exist), if I would take them on and give them private lessons. They've wanted to turn me into some kind of guru. And they don't always know what to say when I explain that I don't do the coven thing, and that I don't take students because I believe this path to be fundamentally self-directed. I will offer to refer them to a local coven if that is what they want, but I don't take on students of my own, I don't initiate anyone, and until the last year or so was very skittish about even offering public workshops. I don't think that I should be guiding anyone on their spiritual path, honestly. Not because I'm not qualified, but because I really believe we have to find our own way.
In a way, I guess, those people edging shyly towards me and asking me about books and teaching are treating me to the sincerest form of flattery -- they see something in me that they want to emulate, something in the way I talk about my life that they want in their lives. They see something in the person I am, in part because of my spirituality, and they want that for themselves. And while part of me is flattered that they want to talk to me, that they have identified and resonated with something in me, I also know that I cannot teach them to be "like me," and even if I could -- I wouldn't.
The practice of any spirituality, and especially The Craft, isn't about becoming like someone else. It's about becoming your authentic self. And trying to emulate me, to mold themselves in my image, is the exact opposite of that.
And besides, they couldn't be like me if they tried, because only I can be me. I wish I could tell them, "Look, The Craft is a big part of who I am, but I didn't get to be the person you see just by practicing. I'm a bundle of experiences and relationships and hurts and joys. I've walked my own path to get here, and it's one that no one else can ever walk. And your path is just that -- yours. I can offer you some maps, I can maybe show you how to light a candle in the darkness, I can even walk part of the way with you -- but I can't walk this for you. And my path wasn't always an easy one -- in fact it was hard as hell sometimes -- and yours might not be either. Reading the right book and buying the right Tarot deck can't change that for you. It can maybe make it easier to walk through the rough parts, but if you're wanting to practice because you want to be me, then you're wasting your time. Practice because you want to be you."
And then I would still tell them to go read Cunningham.